American Planning Association National Planning Conference

May 8th, 2017

As part of the American Planning Association's 2017 National Planning Conference in New York City, we hosted our kick-off panel session, "Planning for Climate Migrants and Refugees," as part of the project. On the panel, we had project members George P.R. Benson, Shirin Karoubi, and Anna Zhuo speak, as well as Sally Cox from the Division of Community and Regional Affairs in the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

Climate Migrants and Refugees Project Team Members (L to R: Cristyn, Shirin, George, and Anna)

Climate Migrants and Refugees Project Team Members (L to R: Cristyn, Shirin, George, and Anna)

Anna Zhuo presenting on a case study, the  ISS of BC Welcome House , in Vancouver, British Columbia

Anna Zhuo presenting on a case study, the ISS of BC Welcome House, in Vancouver, British Columbia

Panel Audience

Panel Audience

Thematic Observations

  • Precise, accurate data collection is crucial for this challenge to be to have credibility (for example, Sally Cox made the point that Alaska is data poor, and as a results funding is hard to come by)

  • Technology and local knowledge and consultations must be combined to determine the potential climate change impacts on a very specific location (Particularly to determine the capacity of a location to absorb a new/added population)

  • There are difficulties finding places to resettle that do not have same climate change impacts present that caused initial displacement -- in particular, Sally Cox noted this is a challenge for coastal Alaska.

  • Adaptation work needs to move from high-level rhetoric to step-by-step problem and solution identification

  • In the United States, there does not yet seem to be a coherent strategy for address impacts on coastal communities at the Federal Level. Indeed, there are fears that many communities will continue to lose ground

Action-Oriented Ideas

  • Cities and communities should look to provide funding to community leaders and organizations (including advocacy groups and service providers) to participate in important meetings and conferences

  • Strong need for inter-agency working groups and coordination bodies

  • Scenario planning can be used in forecasting population shifts; direct forecasting will often be impossible but there has to be some strategic planning and anticipation done now

  • Planners are well-positioned to prepare communities for population movements through education and pre-planning for successful resettlement and integration. 

  • Look for win-win situations where successful investments and programming help established residents and newcomers at the same time.

  • ISSofBC’s Welcome House in Vancouver is a good case study and example that can be replicated at different scales and in different contexts. Other examples mentioned in the United States included the State of Illinois' Welcome Centres, or the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign's proposed Welcome Center as part of it and the City of Urbana-Champaign's Sanctuary City initiatives.